Wednesday, April 5, 2023

A BLIGHT ON THE CERROS – The Blue-mination Of Zihuatanejo

Sally and I love this charming town on the Pacific coast of Guerrero, Mexico called Zihuatanejo. Some 15 years ago, having visited nearly all of Mexico’s coastal resort towns, we found Zihua’s history as a small fishing village and its apparent commitment to growing in thoughtful, human-scale ways really appealing.

But since then controversy has grown over the pace and style of development in Zihua. We understand that those issues must be debated and decided by the citizens and their representatives, not tourists.

But there’s no denying that this town’s lifeblood is tourism. So when locals weigh the costs and benefits of development decisions made by government officials, we listen. And they should know we listen.

     Another transfiguration has been occurring
     in this town that only shows its face at night.

PHOTO: Magdaleno Flores

Of course, many business people, especially those in the hospitality business, are anxious to see the area grow. Those I’ve spoken with want to discourage the visitors who leave behind more trash than pesos—most of them Mexicans—and attract more affluent guests from abroad.

How to accomplish that is where locals differ. Some want to assure that Mexicans, including citizens of Zihua, don’t get steamrollered by politicians’—and their pals’—big ambitions. And that the not so glamorous day-to-day needs of folks who actually live here year-round don’t get ignored.

There are concerns about the spread of shanty neighbor- hoods up the flanks of the cerros, or hills, with no commensurate upgrades to infrastructure. And the removal of mature, healthy trees and swaths of clean, sandy beach to broaden already ample walkways into forty-foot-wide boulevards.

Also debated is the pursuit of “Blue Flag” designation for Zihua’s five main beaches—an international standard town officials have adopted, and which many feel imposes unnecessary restrictions on how both visitors and locals can use the beaches.

      Apparently every single person installing
      a light in those hillside neighborhoods has
      decided on bulbs that have no heart.


As controversial changes like these have come to see the light of day, another transfiguration has been occurring in this town that only shows its face at night.

During our stay this March, as Sally and I dined at some of the cliffside restaurants in La Madera after dark, I observed how much the nightscape—more specifically, the lightscape—has changed in this charming town we’ve come to love.

Most restaurants and lodgings along the beaches are illuminated with an inviting glow, a quality of lighting their owners and managers are smart enough to know evokes warmth, safety and comfort—as light in the range of 1,000 to 3,000 on the Kelvin color temperature scale has since our Neanderthal forebears huddled around campfires.

But as the eye starts climbing the cerros that form the backdrop of the town center, the lightscape changes. And not for the better.

Maybe folks haven’t noticed; some may not care. But apparently every single person installing or replacing a light in those hillside neighborhoods in recent years has decided on bulbs that have no heart.

      Nice, warm LED lights are just as available
      and just as cheap as cold ones.

What I’m seeing is that nearly 100 percent of those bulbs are emitting light of around 5,000 Kelvin—what’s billed in the lighting business as akin to daylight. Sounds innocuous enough, but against a backdrop of darkness this rather blueish hue of light looks far from inviting.

It’s the kind of light people choose for one of three reasons. First, because they’re scared. Maybe they figure that, like having a vicious guard dog chained up outside the back door, the more uninviting you can make your lighting, the fewer burglaries you’ll have.

Or, they may want it for the same reason some folks choose blue headlights for their cars: as a statement of attitude, a form of intimidation.

The third and more likely reason is that the decision isn’t the homeowners’ or landlords’ to make. Maybe it’s city or barrio officials understandably out to save a buck with cheaper LED lighting, who either don’t know or don’t care that nice, warm LED lights are just as available and just as cheap as cold ones.

Either way, the pall of cool, lifeless lighting is spreading up the shoulders of the hills behind El Centro like an infection. And I’m now seeing outbreaks of it popping out lower down, including in a few spots along the south end of Playa
La Ropa.

       People don’t come here to see just a small
       slice of exactly what we’re seeing in parts
       of every big city back home.

While Zihua’s “blue-mination” may be good for the city’s—or some officials’—bottom line, or some Zankas’ sense of security, it sure as hell is not good for tourism, the economic lifeblood of this area. Nor, by the way, is it good for people’s health.*

Accepting it is a de facto rejection of what visitors consistently say they find so appealing about Zihua, its warmth, its color, its uniquely human scale. People—at least people like me and my wife—don’t come here to see just a small slice of exactly what we’re seeing in the sketchier parts of just about every big city back home.

I mean is this the enchanting former fishing village of Zihuatanejo, the magical Eden Andy Dufresne dreamed of in The Shawshank Redemption…or some sketchy alley in Detroit or St. Louis?


* Numerous studies have shown that regular exposure to bluish light can stir depression, increase stress and interfere with healthy sleep.


Anonymous said...

For someone who only spends a month here in the winter you probably don't know that our current mayor and his wife have done more to enrich the lives of the locals than any other mayor in the history of Zihuatanejo. I live here full time, I am a Mexican citizen and the changes they have made are incredible.
The town is spotless, we have garbage pickup daily and people cleaning daily. They support education like no other and it is not the responsibility of the local government, that belongs to state and federal government, yet he invested last year alone millions of pesos for infrastructure in local schools. The list goes on and on but as a visitor you chose to criticize lighting! The people wanted more security so lights and decent roads to access their homes it is. He cleaned up the corruption in the local offices so that monies paid to any government agency actually went into the city bank accounts and not people's pockets. All so more could be reinvested in infrastructure and programs for the locals.
Next year when you come, I hope you can spend some time focusing on the positives of Zihuatanejo rather than something you view as a detriment. Foreign tourism is l less than 30% of our tourist dollar. Jorge Sanchez has promoted Zihuatanejo to create more jobs for the locals year round not just when the snowbirds arrive.

Jeffrey Willius said...

To Anonymous, Apr. 8: Thanks for your comment. Of course I understand my position as just a visitor to Zihua--as I clearly point out in my post.
But it seems your understandable pride in your adopted home has clouded your view of what I actually said. I don't fault the quantity of street lighting (though I know some do), but its quality. It costs no more to use warmer, more pleasant LED lighting than the current cool, uninviting hue of light.
(It’s like a town here in Minnesota deciding the plantings they want in the public square are thorn bushes, when they could just as easily have planted lilacs.)
As for my attitude about Zihua, which you see as critical, you’re apparently unaware of my frequent, glowing reflections on the city’s many glowing attributes.

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